Saturday, September 29, 2007

Does Online Networking Live Up to the Hype?

I've mentioned LinkedIn as a great place to manage your networking contacts and make new ones that can help you in your job search. 10 million people use the site for professional networking, and every day you see another article touting the benefits of networking online.

Laurie Smith, a professional resume writer blogging at CareerHub, has an interesting post challenging the notion that virtual networking is beneficial. In the end, she agrees that it is.

Friday, September 28, 2007

University of Indianapolis Press: Meet the Press Luncheon

Yesterday I had the honor of attending the annual Meet the Press luncheon at the University of Indianapolis Press. Press director Dr. Phylis Lan Lin (see photo of us at left) invited me as thanks for helping her on a project this summer.

Guests at the luncheon included several of the press's authors, its board of directors, university faculty, and the various outside consultants who have worked with the press this year.

Opening remarks were from Dr. Phil Young, director of the university library and a member of the press's board of directors. He spoke about the history of the press, which was begun in the 1980s but has seen a rebirth under the leadership of Dr. Lin since 2004.

The press has published 18 books and aims to publish 2 or 3 new titles each year. Topics of focus include academic subjects, in particular Asian studies, Methodism, and service learning. But they are also open to novels (and Dr. Young has published two himself) and other works that advance literature in general. Authors tend to be university faculty, but the press is also accepting proposals from those outside the university community.

Dr. Lin reports that internships will be available with the press, in areas such as marketing, technical writing, and production. The internships will pay (although Dr. Lin jokingly referred to the compensation as "slavery wages"). University of Indianapolis students will have first preference, but Dr. Lin is also open to considering applications from students at other Indianapolis-area institutions.

After the nice luncheon, I was able to visit with JIST's favorite resume-collection author, Dr. David Noble, who is U of I faculty and a member of the press's board of directors. Then I scoped out the university's Follett-run bookstore (and found several of my JIST books on the shelves) and the library. All in all, a pleasant afternoon!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Dean Miller, Senior Manager, Home Entertainment & Books, WWE

My guest blogger for today is Gayle Johnson, freelance copy editor and longtime Macmillan/Pearson editor before that. She interviews Dean Miller, another of our former colleagues. He is a prime example of someone who blended his passions into the perfect career for himself.

Today we speak with Dean Miller of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), headquartered in Stamford, Connecticut. Dean has followed an interesting and somewhat unusual career path over the past 15 years. He started with a computer-book publisher and now deals with professional wrestlers. Here’s his story:

What is your educational background?

My undergraduate days were spent at MIT, where I received a joint degree in biology and expository writing. I did spend a year at Indiana University pursuing a master’s in journalism, but I abandoned the effort, choosing instead a career track that allowed me to make money.

When you were in college, did you have an idea of the kind of job or field you wanted to get into?

Absolutely not. When I first started in school, I wanted to be a doctor (hence the start in biology). I caught the writing bug and thought that could be a future avenue, although I also did a bit of C programming for the Human Genome Project as an undergrad. MIT provides incredible opportunities to its undergrads to get involved in key research work in their chosen field. I literally had no idea that jobs like the ones I eventually got existed in book publishing until I read about them on a job board.

What were your first jobs in publishing?

Well, technically speaking, I covered high-school sports for the local newspaper when I was in high school (I believe I received $25 a week for my efforts), and I did a bit of documentation in college on the genetic mapping software I was helping to create, but my first full-time opportunity was copy editing computer books for SAMS Publishing.

Describe your job progression after that.

I didn’t copy edit long. My real interest and I believe skill was more at the higher-level edit (organization of the book, selection of topics, teaching methods, etc.) than the “micro-edits,” so I was moved into development editing. I did that for a few years, with the occasional book acquisition thrown in, before I moved into management and eventually an Associate Publisher position. After 10 years, I left computer books and started doing acquisitions and development of sports titles—instructional, historical, and biographical. After three years at that, I found my current position at WWE.

What was your first job with the WWE, and how have you progressed from there?

My initial role was Publishing Manager, which is to say I served as the liaison between WWE and Simon & Schuster, our official publishing partner. WWE has been doing books for about eight years, ever since Mick Foley shocked the literary world by creating a New York Times #1 bestseller. The prevailing wisdom that fans of professional wrestling are not readers had been proven wrong consistently over the last decade, and both HarperCollins and S&S have been official publishers of WWE offerings. These licensing agreements fit within the consumer products group, and as a result, I have seen over time my responsibility broaden within consumer products. My official title is now Senior Manager, Home Entertainment & Books. I am heavily involved in our home entertainment group (DVDs) and help with our video game, international publishing, and our Legends Program (a licensing initiative featuring the likenesses of former wrestlers from the past three decades).

Describe your primary job responsibilities.

Books probably take up 25% of my time. On these my job is to help get the books published and vet the content through all appropriate departments. I also work on setting up publicity and marketing for the books once they are published, including book signings.

I am also responsible for the creation of marketing materials and packaging information for all of our DVDs. I also help come up with the list of titles in both areas and P&Ls for the lists.

What’s a typical day like for you?

It’s pretty hectic at all times. We run original programming 52 weeks a year, so we do not have any downtime in our schedule. Obviously, some times are busier than others. Now is big as we are doing the final adjustments on holiday products. The period leading into WrestleMania is insane as well. I’m usually speaking to writers, S&S, and other departments about the promotion and marketing of books and DVDs.

We have an “all hands on deck” approach in Consumer Products, so I’m often called to help with other products. Recently I’ve helped approve models and game play for our next video game, helped select talent for apparel and toy products, and worked with international publishers on kids’ activity books. It’s really nice that I get to stretch my work experience beyond my core competency.

What kinds of people do you deal with? Do you ever interact with the superstars and divas (male and female wrestlers)?

All the time. I interact with the ones who are subjects of books and DVDs, often accompanying them on personal appearances and signings. They often have ideas for consumer products and contact us. I also occasionally go to shows and go backstage for meetings, but I try to avoid that when possible because I don’t want to interrupt their preparation for the show.

Of course, some of our biggest stars—the McMahon family—are in the office all the time. They are very involved with all day-to-day decisions, and I meet with each of them on different topics. In many ways WWE is the best of both worlds: it is a publicly traded company, but on many fronts, it’s a family-run business.

Do you travel for your job?

Yes. I visit retailers, accompany superstars and divas on personal appearances, and attend a variety of trade shows and conventions. We also generally have big partner events at WrestleMania each year, so I’ve been to the last two, and plan on being in Orlando this March.

What skills are most helpful in your job?

Flexibility and interpersonal skills.

What do you like most about your job?

The variety of tasks, working on a pretty exciting property (it’s shocking that wrestling is more exciting than computer publishing), the staff I get to work with.

What are your biggest challenges?

Probably continuing to overcome the stigma that many still associate with professional wrestling.

What advice would you give to college students or recent graduates?

Immerse yourself in your new position and company. Once you have your basic duties down, look to do more for the company with the expectation that you’re doing it for long-term career growth, not short-term financial reward. Ask a ton of questions—seek out people with experience and buy them a meal or a drink for the opportunity to pick their brain. Look at the first five years of postgraduate work as staging years. You want to build as many varied experiences as possible, and you want to lay the groundwork of being a hard worker willing to do what is needed to help your group achieve its goals.

You moved from technology publishing to sports publishing to the pro wrestling industry. Do you have any advice for someone who wants to move into a different job function or into a different area within the same basic industry?

Do not underestimate the applicability of your current skill set into other areas. When I first left computer publishing, I thought I couldn’t possibly do something else—that I didn’t have the skills an employer in a different area would want or need. But sitting down and looking at what I’ve accomplished, I started to realize that certain tasks are universal—project management, risk assessment, mentoring, basic problem solving, data analysis. These are skills all employers need. You absolutely will need to learn some basic information about your new area or industry, as well as learn how to successfully integrate yourself into a new corporate culture, but most employers understand this and give you the time you need.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Rachel Singer Gordon, Librarian Turned Editor

Today I'm happy to introduce you to Rachel Singer Gordon, a technology-oriented librarian whose career has evolved into editing books for librarians. Rachel has for many years been the voice of the "new" library--one that uses information in all forms, not just books, to help its patrons.

Here's her story of how she got from the reference desk to the editor's seat:

Before my son was born in 2002, I was working as a computer services department head in a smaller public library. At the time, I'd begun both publishing in the library literature and presenting occasionally to library groups. I chose to scale back to part-time reference desk work in order to be home with my son, while continuing to pursue writing and other freelance work that could be done from home.

My freelance career began taking off, and in mid-2005 I found myself having to choose between scaling back on freelancing or quitting my part-time job. The freelance work easily won out; I enjoyed writing, enjoyed having the opportunity to meet and work with librarians from around the country, and was somewhat burnt out on reference work. Around the same time, my publisher, Information Today, Inc., wanted to expand its library publishing program. I began as a consulting editor with them that fall.

As a consulting acquisitions editor, I seek out authors for ITI's book publishing division, encourage and work with them on submitting proposals, serve as their liaison throughout the writing process, edit their final manuscripts, and serve as another pair of eyes on their galleys. I also attend two of ITI's major conferences each year (Computers in Libraries and Internet Librarian), which gives me a chance to meet many of my authors in person for the first time and to find new ideas and inspiration from the conference sessions. As I've continued giving workshops and presentations on topics from library management to writing for publication, I get further opportunities to connect with colleagues around the country when I travel for conferences and other events.

I also continue to write for publication in the library field, and have several ongoing commitments. I coauthor a department in Computers in Libraries magazine, write monthly computer book review columns and a quarterly prepublication alert column for Library Journal magazine, and contribute a monthly column on writing for publication to Library Link, an online portal for librarians. Right now, I'm finishing up my ninth book (on alternative careers for librarians); my eighth, an edited collection on technology and the future of libraries, comes out next month.

My career portal for librarians,, remains the most highly trafficked library job site, and integrates with my writing and other activities. Much of my writing focuses on career development issues, and I continue this focus online with, its associated professional development newsletter, Info Career Trends, and with my two blogs, Beyond the Job and The Liminal Librarian. So, although I'm not currently working in a library, I still consider myself a librarian at heart--which I hear also from many of the people I've been talking to for the book on alternative careers. Librarianship provides a fantastic foundation, no matter where our careers take us.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Preparing for Tomorrow's Trade Launch

Twice a year, we gather the marketing, sales, and editorial groups to present our new books for the next selling season--in this case, spring 2008. We'll bring in lunch and spend a few hours going over the details of the 13 new books on our frontlist. My boss and I will take turns presenting our respective titles--mine are pure trade and hers are reference books that sell into trade--to the group. And our assessments editor will have his own entry to the list for the first time.

We've been working for the last few months to acquire the books for the list and get preliminary versions of the covers designed. We also have prepared a "New Product Information Sheet" for each title, which outlines the vital stats, the table of contents, information about the authors, comparable titles and their sales, and ideas for sales and marketing strategies.

I'm pretty excited about our new list. We've got a good mix of new editions of big sellers, line extensions of successful series, and a few wild cards that could go BIG. We're hoping the publisher and CEO, who are jetting in from L.A. and St. Paul, respectively, will be as excited as we are.

I drove the establishment of the first JIST trade launch about five years ago. I wanted a forum where we could have an open discussion about sales and marketing strategies, get everyone excited, and give the books a big send-off. Our former owner dubbed it a "roll-out," and decreed that we should serve roll-up sandwiches from Roly-Poly. He was wacky that way, but fun.

So tomorrow, forgive me if I'm "out of pocket" and can't post anything. It's one of the two biggest days of the year for my books.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks

Thanks to friend and freelance editor Linda Seifert for sending me this link, which she read about in this morning's Indianapolis Star.

Have you ever found yourself wanting to edit the poorly punctuated business signs you see all around you? (I know at least two of us have actually taken out a red pen and done so!) Here's a blog that will have you rolling your eyes and chuckling along as readers all over the country send in photos of the most egregious instances of superfluous quotation marks:

Friday, September 21, 2007

Best Publishing Jobs for Your Personality

Back in the 1950s, a career guidance researcher named John Holland came up with a set of six personality types that he used to match people to the jobs they were best suited to. Supposedly we all fall into one of these categories, but usually have leanings toward a second or third category, which is what makes us all unique.

The five types, called the RIASEC codes, are the following:
  • Realistic: People who like work activities that include practical, hands-on problems and solutions.

  • Investigative: People who like work activities that have to do with ideas and thinking more than physical activities.

  • Artistic: People who like work activities that deal with the artistic side of things, like self-expression, and like to work without following a clear set of rules.

  • Social: People who like work activities that assist others and promote learning and personal development.

  • Enterprising: People who like work activities that have to do with starting up or carrying out projects, especially business ventures. They like persuading and leading people, making decisions, and taking risks for profit.

  • Conventional: People who like work activities that follow set procedures and routines.

I looked through the book 50 Best Jobs for Your Personality and picked out the jobs that are common in the publishing industry. Most of them fell into the Artistic category, but there are almost as many Enterprising jobs. Here’s a list of personality types and the publishing jobs that appeal to these types. Secondary personality types, where available, are in parentheses after the jobs.


  • Editors (Social)

  • Advertising and promotions managers (Enterprising)

  • Art directors (Enterprising)

  • Copy writers (Enterprising)

  • Creative writers

  • Graphic designers (Enterprising)

  • Painters and illustrators (Realistic)


  • Agents (Social)

  • Human resources managers (Social)

  • Lawyers (Conventional)

  • Marketing Managers (Conventional)

  • Executives (Conventional)

  • Public relations specialists (Artistic)

  • Sales managers (Conventional)

  • Chief Financial Officers (Conventional)


  • Accountants (Enterprising)

  • Administrative assistants (Enterprising)

To find out your RIASEC type and match it to the right jobs for you, see 50 Best Jobs for Your Personality by Michael Farr and Laurence Shatkin.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Brook Farling, Manufacturing Buyer, Pearson Technology Group

Today I am very happy to introduce you to one of the coolest and nicest people I know. Brook Farling is a longtime Pearson person who has one of the less common (but more interesting) jobs in publishing. He is the one who manages the process of getting the books printed. Here's his insider view of the job:

How long have you worked in this job, and what other publishing jobs led up to this one?

I started out as a compositor, then I took over the supervision of a production team comprised of compositors, proofreaders, and indexers. I've been in my current position for over ten years.

How do you keep your job fresh and interesting?

Hmmmm. Well, it's never dull, because there's always some element of managing chaos. The processes are generally the same each day, but it's the little problems that pop up that chew up a good portion of my day. I generally enjoy tackling those issues and helping others find resolution. I also enjoy helping people find ways to make their books better, or finding ways of saving them money (and in turn making their books more profitable). This might involve suggesting an alternative paper, cover stock, or some other solution, or maybe it's a new printer.

What is your job description, and what do you do on a typical day?

My job is mostly about managing titles at the printer(s), once the final files have been shipped off for printing. That may involve everyday things like cutting purchase orders, finalizing shipping instructions, working with our warehouse to ensure that books arrive on time, etc., but it also involves working out problems that might pop up with book files, planning future titles at the printer, ordering paper, ordering covers or media, etc. The list of little things goes on and on, but it's never not a challenge to stay on top of it all.

What skills are needed to do your job?

You have to be organized and work well under tight time constraints. A whole lot of what I do involves making things happen in a timely fashion so books aren't delayed. There's a lot of detail involved (sometimes more than I like), but I wouldn't call it dull. You also have to be good with people. I spend a good portion of my day talking to people both within and outside of the organization, and excellent written communication skills are a must.

What did you major in?

I have a degree in Journalism from Ball State University.

What advice do you have for college students who might want to get a job like yours—what can they do to prepare for it?

Hmmm, don't do it! Just kidding. Being a manufacturing (or print) buyer is not exactly where I thought I would be at this point in my career, but I certainly see many sides of the business and you learn a tremendous amount by being exposed to a lot of different areas of the business. I would recommend it as a good position for anyone interested in the business side of publishing, as opposed to the editorial side. Probably some business classes would be helpful, but any exposure to commercial printing certainly will help.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

It Worked! Early Results of Our Amazon Bestseller Campaign

As you might remember, yesterday was our Amazon bestseller campaign for 30-Day Job Promotion. Again I held vigil on Amazon and TitleZ to watch how the sales ranking of this book was affected by the author's campaign to ask her friends and colleagues to all buy a copy of the book on the same day. And again I was amazed--it worked! Thanks to all of you for your help! Here's an excerpt from the author's thank-you note to her colleagues:

As I watched the ranking numbers for 30-Day Job Promotion move from
  • #105,005 last night to
  • #9,852 early this morning to
  • #289 at mid-day and now holding steady at
  • #228 as the MOST POPULAR AMAZON ITEM in the JOB HUNTING category
all I could think of was my favorite quote by Margaret Mead:
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."

Granted, #228 isn't the stratosphere as far as Amazon rankings go, but it's the best a JIST book has ever done. Even my jaded husband called it "decent." It will be a few days before I can tell how many actual book sales resulted from this effort, though.

And so the next question arises: What's the point? Will this actually help us sell more books in the long run? It's a question I intend to investigate, and I'll let you know what I learn.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Do You Need a Master's Degree to Get a Publishing Job?

This question has come up more than once in my conversations with career seekers. I’m sure my answer confused them even further: “No…and yes.”

The truth is that you do not need a master’s degree to get your first job in publishing. Only a handful of people I know in the business have them. A random sampling of entry-level editorial jobs confirms this: Most specify a BA (usually in English) as the educational qualification. As further proof, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook also lists a bachelor’s degree as the required education for writers and editors.

However, in general, the minimum educational level for many jobs is creeping up. My parents didn’t have college degrees (until my mom went back recently and got hers). Now my generation considers a bachelor’s degree as the key to a professional career. But maybe for the millennial generation, a master’s will become de rigueur?

And here’s something else that will surprise you: If I got a master’s degree, it wouldn’t be in English. I never thought I’d hear myself say this, but an MBA would be more appropriate. Why? As you progress in your publishing career, you’ll become more aware of the bigger picture, which is this: Publishing is a business. To attain higher roles, you need to have a grasp of budgeting, forecasting, contract negotiation, sales, marketing, general economics, and other such skill areas.

And here’s a wonderful option for people in New York: NYU has a Master of Science in Publishing degree. The description of this program is very informative.

So, the bottom line? Go ahead and get your first job in publishing after you finish your BA (unless, of course, your parents are paying; in that case, go ahead and get the master’s degree). Then if you decide you want it, you can earn your master’s while you work. Some employers will even pay for it.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Bob Grilliot: Library, Cataloger, and Postsecondary Sales Manager

Today I have the pleasure of sharing with you the career story and advice of Bob Grilliot, longtime colleague and friend at JIST. At 14 years, he has the most seniority of anyone at the company. Here's what he has to say:

How did you get your first job in publishing?
I got my first job in publishing in a very traditional way: I answered a newspaper ad! However, I had worked in the book industry for about ten years before I started working in publishing.

What education and experience do you think helped you get that job?
It was my bookstore background that helped me get my foot in the door in publishing.

What jobs have you had since your first one?
I’ve only been with one publisher--for nearly 14 years! However, in that time it's felt like many different companies, with several management changes and a buyout. I’ve filled many different sales roles in those years; it seems every couple of years I have an opportunity to do something a little different. It has kept the job fresh.

What do you love about publishing sales?
There is a lot to like about publishing sales. You meet some interesting people; I’ve seen many cities I would otherwise not have seen; you can make a living and still sleep at night. I’ve been lucky also to have lots of variety in my roles, which has been a huge plus for me.

What's not so great?
When I traveled a lot, it got tedious at times. And I don’t think anyone is getting wealthy in publishing sales, though, like I said, you can definitely make a living.

What's a typical day like for you?
There are no typical days. The best days have lots of customer contact (and, hopefully, orders). The worst days have unproductive meetings and customer service problems to be fixed. Not every day is exciting but there is an opportunity every day to make that day significant, which is another huge plus to the career.

What advice do you have for someone who wants to get into a publishing sales job?
Know yourself--what are your career priorities? If you want to get rich, go into a different industry. And like any career, you get out of it only what you are willing to put in.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Career-Building Tips for College Students

Recent college graduate Brooke at the Monster Blog has a great list of tips for things you can do while still in college to get the most from your education and bolster your chances of having a satisfying career.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Another View on Small vs. Large Publishers

Juliana Aldous Atkinson read my earlier post about working at a small publisher vs. working at a large one. So she's writing a three-part post about working at a small publisher, a large publisher, and a corporate publisher (an alternative I hadn't thought about). Check out her first post today, and be sure to go back and read her future installments. Great stuff!

Amazon Bestseller Campaigns: Do They Work?

Last year, sales guru and author Jeffrey Gitomer put everyone at his publisher on notice: "On April 4, 2006, my new book, The Little Red Book of Sales Answers, will hit #1 on" When I heard the news, I was shocked. How could he predict this so precisely? How could he presume to control how his book sold and ranked on Amazon on a particular day?

When that day rolled around, you can bet I was watching his rankings. And sure enough, as the day went on, the higher his book climbed, until finally, it did hit #1.

So how did he do it? Turns out, he notified all of his followers (apparently thousands and thousands of people on his mailing list) that if they bought the book on that day, he would give them some free bonus material.

And just a few months ago, Wiley did the same thing with a book called Career Distinction (a book on personal branding that I sorely wanted to acquire, but in the end Wiley's global reach and advance offer was more appealing to the authors). The authors called upon their career-industry colleagues to buy the book at Amazon on its release date. I watched that one, too, and it peaked at a very respectable #147. The book couldn't sustain such a ranking beyond that day, but it still does very well.

Not to look like copycats (because we did have the idea before Wiley did it), JIST is going to try a similar approach on a smaller scale. Career coach Susan Britton Whitcomb has asked all her colleagues to buy a copy of 30-Day Job Promotion from Amazon on Tuesday, September 18. So if you're feeling stuck in your position and want to develop a plan for getting a promotion, help us out and buy the book from Amazon on Tuesday!
Have a great weekend! I've got tons of great interviews lined up for next week.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The World's Top 10 Book Publishers

The organizers of the upcoming Frankfurt Book Fair send out an e-newsletter to past and future attendees. My husband forwarded the latest edition to me and this caught my eye: A list of the top 10 book publishers in the world, their parent companies, their nation of origin, and how many billions they make a year. So here's the list:

  1. Reed Elsevier (Reed Elsevier--UK/NL): 7.6 billion
  2. Pearson (Pearson plc--UK): 7.3 billion
  3. Thomson (Thomson Corp.--Canada) : 6.6 billion
  4. Bertelsmann (Bertelsmann AG--Germany) : 5.9 billion
  5. Wolters Kluwer (Wolters Kluwer--NL): 4.8 billion
  6. Hachette Livre (Lagardère--France) : 2.56 billion
  7. McGraw-Hill Education (The McGraw-Hill Cos.--US) : 2.52 billion
  8. Reader’s Digest (Reader’s Digest--US): 2.3 billion
  9. Scholastic Corp. (Scholastic--US): 2.2 billion
  10. De Agostini Editore (Gruppo De Agostini--Italy): unavailable
The newsletter cites Livres Hebdo, a book-publishing trade publication in France, as the source of this information. The list actually out of date already. In May, the book division of Thomson was acquired by an investment group and renamed Cengage Learning (a name that Pearson CEO Marjorie Scardino thinks is a huge handicap for them).

Although the biggest companies aren't headquartered in the U.S., they have massive operations here and own many, many of the companies and imprints we're familiar with, such as Harcourt, Prentice Hall, Random House, and Time Warner.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Freelance Permissions Editor Needed

A friend at an establshed independent textbook publisher has asked me to help him in his search for a freelance permissions editor. If this is you (or you know someone who does this), please e-mail me at and I will put you in touch with one another.

And for the career explorers out there, a permissions editor is someone who identifies material (photos, text, etc.) in a pre-published book that is copyrighted by someone else. The permissions editor then requests permission of the copyrightholders, negotiates the fees, and coordinates the process of getting everything "cleared" legally for publication.

If we manage to turn up someone who does this, I'll ask them to share their career story here.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Penelope Trunk on Career Priorities and 9/11

All week I've been struggling with today's post. There were so many ways to approach what I wanted to say. But basically it all boils down to this:
Life is too short to spend it in a job you hate (or even a job you just
don't love), and one that distracts you from what's really important:
Penelope Trunk does a good job of illustrating this in today's post for her Brazen Careerist blog.

Monday, September 10, 2007

A Ringing Endorsement

Ever wonder about those effusive blurbs you see on book covers--you know, "This book is a must-have!" from Somebody Really Important. How do they get there, and what purpose do these endorsements serve?

Basically, it's an attempt to convince you to buy the book. If Professor J.D. Snickelfritz says this is the best book ever, then you'd be stupid if you didn't buy it, right? Surely Dr. Snickelfritz is unbiased and has no stake in whether you buy the book. Right?

The answer is "yes, most of the time." I don't suppose I know of anyone ever being paid to provide an endorsement, beyond getting a free copy of the book. But sometimes Dr. Snickelfritz might be a good friend of the author's. So he's not going to say the book stinks. And other times he might have his own book published by the same publisher, and has been prevailed upon by some well-meaning editor to give it a stamp of approval.

Most of the time, it works like this: The editor or publicist tells the author, "Hey, round up some of your high-profile friends and contact some of your idols and peers. Tell them we want to send them an advance copy of your book. If they like it, we'd like them to send us a nice quote we can use on the cover." Some authors are better at this than others. Sometimes it gets down to press time and we've got nothing. Other times we get a bountiful list of glowing reviews from famous and brainy people.

Now what about those customer reviews on Those are all completely unbiased, right? Sadly, no. I think many authors put their friends up to writing positive reviews on Amazon. Maybe even some publishers (but not me--the worst I will admit to is clicking on the "This comment is not helpful" button when someone pans one of my books).

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Need a Part-Time Job? Get Thee to the Library!

If you're in college and need to work a part-time job at the same time, I can highly recommend a stint working at the library. A work-study job in the campus library is convenient, but it might be easier to get a job at the local public library.

When I was in college, I spent over a year working behind the circulation desk at the Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library system's Central Library (see photo at left). My job was circulation clerk. I helped people check out books, sign up for library cards, put materials on hold, and find older books that were hidden away in the scary "stacks" (think Ghostbusters). For variety, I was also responsible for reshelving returned books in the building's east wing, including philosophy, religion, politics, social science, and (oddly) test prep.

And since we were just converting to a computerized system (it was, after all, 1987), I got to enter thousands of patron records into the system. And if there was just nothing else to do, I could go to the workroom and wash books and repair them with tape.

So how does this help you get to a publishing career? I think it helps demonstrate that you love books, and is certainly more relevant than most fast-food or retail jobs. Also, I learned things there that have helped me identify with librarians, who are now our customers.

Although it probably won't pay more than minimum wage, it does pay. And although you'll work with the public, you likely won't encounter the kinds of unbelievably bad customer behavior that you would in restaurants and retail. It's less physically and emotionally taxing, and the hours are generally regular and sane.

If you find you like the library so much that you want to stay a while longer, you can get a master's in library science and become a reference librarian.

The American Library Association's website has a section about library careers. You can also browse specific job postings by state at, a site managed by former librarian Rachel Singer Gordon, whom I hired a few years ago to contribute to Best Career and Education Web Sites.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Think Small? Why a Small Publisher Can Be a Great Place to Work

I read somewhere that there are more than 170,000 small publishers in America. By small, I'm guessing they mean the companies make less than $10 million a year. Many of these, obviously, are people who have self-published one book and then called themselves a publishing company. But a lot of them are like JIST, where I work: Less than 50 employees and independently owned (although whether we still qualify as independent after being bought by EMC this year is up for debate; people at the Publishers Marketing Association have assured us that we are, however).

Several of my colleagues at JIST formerly worked at one (or both) of the big publishers in town: Macmillan/Pearson and IDG/Hungry Minds/Wiley. I polled them about their experience at a small publisher and got widely varying answers.

"What do you miss most about working at a big publisher?" I asked. "Absolutely nothing," answered one person. Meanwhile, the person in the very next cube couldn't find one positive thing to say about the small-publisher experience. So I guess it depends largely on who you are and what you want from an employer at a particular point in time. Some people thrive on the relative freedom from politics and order, while others feel they are left flailing about in space.

Among the best things reported about working for a small publisher:

  • "Being able to do more tasks that at a large publisher might be divided up among many people/departments."
  • "Ability to have more creativity."
  • "Seems to be less chaos in general."
  • "Ability to get to know the people you work with better since it is a smaller group of co-workers."
  • "Closer knit group. Better relationships lend to better working relationships."
  • "Ability to blaze a trail and be given growth opportunities you might not have gotten at a larger publisher."
  • "The chance to see the 'big picture' and learn how all the pieces fit together better."

Of course, there are also benefits to working for a larger publisher:

  • "The name recognition of working to a publisher that most people have heard of."
  • "Having more financial resources to accomplish goals."
  • "Better medical benefits."
  • "Access to better equipment and software."
  • "Always having plenty of work to do."
  • "More job security, or at least the perception of it."
  • "Having a clear career path and the opportunity to learn from others."
  • "Oh, let's face it: Higher salaries and better bonuses (until this year, we each got a turkey, a ham, and a hundred-dollar bill as our bonus at JIST!)."

For me personally, working at a small publisher has been good because it has helped me achieve a better work/life balance than when I was taking work home every night from Macmillan. But it's also frustrating trying to compete with bigger publishers for the best authors and books, and knowing that although we dominate the careers category, we don't have much chance of doing anything outside of it. Does the world really need another resume book?

Three Blogs of Note: A Newbie's Guide to Publishing, My Global Career, and Liberal Arts Grad Blog

I spend a lot of time on search engines just trying to find new, relevant information. I stumbled upon three blogs that I intend to follow further:

  • A Newbie's Guide to Publishing: Written by J.A. Konrath, a mystery author. It's more from the point of view of potential authors than potential publishing professionals. But it's still interesting.
  • My Global Career: Lots of lively content about working in a "flat world." A recent article on "Six Tips for Newbie Freelancers" was particularly interesting.
  • Liberal Arts Grad Blog: All about "the trials and tribulations of being a liberal arts graduate in the job market." It's written by a guy who identifies himself as "Liberal Arts Dude." LAD has recently graduated from college and retired this blog, but there are a lot of great archived articles to read.

It's absolutely mind-boggling how many people are out there blogging, and I want to read them all! It's like reality TV for the literati!

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Stephen Tiano, Freelance Book Designer, Page Compositor, and Layout Artist

Stephen Tiano is a new publishing friend out in Long Island, New York, whom I have met through this blog. His job is to take raw text from editors and make it look great. He has his own blog, too. I'll let him tell you all about what he does:

Tell me how you got into publishing, what your education and training were ...

I actually got into publishing as a proofreader/copy editor for a small legal publisher. I left that first publishing job to finish my degree in English during the day and went to work nights at a computer typesetter as a proofreader of math and science. So I came to book design and layout with a fair idea of how finished pages ought to look. Also, I wrote my first story at the age of four and two-and-a-half bad, unpublishable novels by the time I was twenty-one. The latter did not deter me, as a fortuneteller in NYC told me I wouldn't have my first book published till I was about forty--and, she added, it would be the first of many. Having supported myself through college as a fortuneteller, I put a certain amount of stock in what fortunetellers said. I believed I'd make my living one day from "my" books. Little did I know that it would not be from authoring them, but from their design and layout. But I was left with an appreciation of a writer's work.

The place I worked at nights was an oddly run place, in a bankruptcy reorganization for what seemed like forever. I found myself thinking that if I got the equipment one day, I could do what they did, only correctly and sensibly.

what you do ...

I make books. That is, my design and production work result in pages that go to press and become books. What I try to do is make pages--and occasionally covers--that invite readers in to where the writer's words take hold till they finish reading the book. This means staying out of the way and creating clean pages that make it easy for readers to stick with the book.

what a typical day is like for you ...

Well, as a freelancer, I spend a certain amount of time each day--sometimes hours--trawling for more work. A long time ago that meant mailing out resumes and printed copies of work samples. Thankfully, the Internet and e-ail came along. I can look for jobs and projects in newspapers and boards throughout the country. Also, twice each year I send out an e-mail inquiry seeking book design and production work. I used to attach my resume and work samples. Now I attach my resume and include a link to my website, which has work samples posted on it.

When I have a book going, especially in hot weather, I like working at night. The house is quiet and, since I'm a bit of a night owl, I get a lot done working with darkness outside. I like to have two books going at once when possible, as it keeps me fresh and working longer when I can switch off.

and what you would recommend to others who want to do what you do ...

Read books. Both on the subjects of design, layout, and typography, as well as off. Any book is an example of design and layout choices. Be prepared to trawl for work all the time.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Laurie Harper: Literary Agent and Owner, Sebastian Literary Agency

When I was in Minnesota week before last, I made an appointment to meet with Laurie Harper, a nonfiction agent with whom I had worked a few years ago. She's been in the business 22 years, really knows her stuff, and is always a blast to talk to.

Laurie became an agent because she was a publisher of gift books and wanted to close down that business. She wanted to find other publishers to take on the books she could no longer do, and found out she liked agenting a lot. So she stuck with it, and moved her business from San Francisco to St. Paul when her personal situation dictated it.

So here's what Laurie has to say about what an agent does and how to get into the business:

An agent represents an author, presenting the author's Work (proposals or completed manuscripts) to select publishing house editors who are a match for that author, to secure a publishing deal [contract] for the author. This often involves first developing the proposal or book idea with the author a little bit to make it ready for publishers to see. Once there is a publisher's offer to publish the book (which can take between 2 months and a year), the agent negotiates the publishing contract on behalf of the author; often handles some of the subsidiary rights licensing for the author (like foreign translation or a film deal); receives and manages the author's money from publisher(s) and verifies the royalty statements; advises the author on all publishing matters such as next books to write, copyright questions, permissions questions, issues with the editor, general marketing questions, etc. The agent does not personally manage
the author's publicity (which is done by a publicist) [either a freelance publicist hired by the author or the publisher's staff publicist].

The author-agent relationship can be structured book-by-book, or--as is more common--developed over years as they work on multiple projects together. It's often referred to as being like a marriage. It is a very personal relationship. So there are skirmishes and divorces, and then there are long-term ones that flourish. You'll see it all. The idea is that the author is an expert in his/her field of writing and the market/audience, while the agent is the publishing business expert. If they put their heads together and combine those talents, author and agent win. The agent is commissioned on the author's income (usually 15%) so they are vested partners--win, lose, or draw. The agent must quickly learn to make "good bets" on which writers to select and work for because you can do a lot of work and never get paid...It's a gamble.

For anyone wanting to become an agent, there is no better way than to work in an established agency as an assistant (or intern) for at least 6 months to one year. You will see the range of work done and the variety of skills that an agent needs to develop. You will see the kind of publishing instinct it takes, and the ability to build good relationships with both authors and editors. There are few actual classes about agenting, though Peter Rubin in NY offers one through his agency. Many of us learned by doing, and by reading books like How to Be Your Own Literary Agent and Negotiating a Book Contract and How to Sell, Then Write Your Nonfiction Book (or Fiction Book") -- kind of books. We read what is there for the writers to represent themselves and we read what lawyers publish about it, and we read in writers' magazines what both sides have to say about the agent (who is in the middle) and in all of that, you figure it out. You go meet with editors and chat about book projects you are representing, and off you go...

Most agents come to this profession by accident--they were doing something else but felt a commitment to get a certain author published, and the next thing you know, you're representing more authors and pretty soon it's a full-time thing. It grows rather rapidly because there are so many authors and not enough agents to take everyone. But there is also a turnover in agents because it's hard to make enough money on commission only.